Strong earthquake rocks Guatemala, El Salvador

A powerful earthquake that shook Guatemala and parts of El Salvador caused traffic chaos in Guatemala City, damaged some houses and generated landslides outside the capital.

But officials said there were no immediate reports of major damage or injuries from the 6.8-magnitude quake that struck Wednesday afternoon southwest of Guatemala City.

Aid workers across Guatemala reported only minor damage to homes in a couple of rural communities, according to Francois de la Roche, Latin America's director for humanitarian and emergency affairs for the aid organization World Vision.

"I didn't notice it at first but then felt this long, swaying motion back and forward," de la Roche said in a telephone interview from Antigua, Guatemala.

The quake struck at 1:29 p.m. local time (1929 GMT) and was centered 70 miles (115 kilometers) southwest of Guatemala City off the Pacific coast, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Guatemala's seismology institute said the quake lasted 49 seconds.

In Guatemala City, people fled buildings into the streets, throwing traffic into chaos in the sprawling city.

"It rattled a lot of nerves," said Benedicto Giron, spokesman for the National Disaster Reduction Center.

Outside the capital, landslides were reported in the southwest province of Escuintla, but they apparently caused no casualties, Giron said. He added, however, that phone service was knocked out in some areas and information was only trickling in slowly.

The quake was also felt strongly in neighboring El Salvador, where people ran into the streets in the capital of San Salvador, but the Red Cross there said it had no reports of damage or injuries.

It was also felt in the Mexican city of Tapachula along the Guatemalan border.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center based in Hawaii said no tsunami was expected from the quake.

The region is prone to earthquakes. Almost 23,000 people died in a 1976 earthquake in Guatemala.